State appeals Barron’s acquittal

2010-08-04 00:00

THE state has urged the high court in Pietermaritzburg to set aside the 2006 acquittal of well-known local woman Linda Barron on a charge of culpable homicide arising from the death of talented musician Chas Smit (23) in 2005.

If the high court agrees, Barron could find herself back in court awaiting sentencing more than three years after the trial court exonerated her of negligently causing Smit’s death.

Smit, of Pietermaritzburg, was the lead vocalist and guitarist of the popular Cape Town-based band Plush. He died instantly when he was struck by Barron’s car soon after midnight on September 18, 2005.

The incident happened while Smit and his friends were crossing the street on their way to Crowded House nightclub after a performance at the Winston Churchhill Theatre.

Barron stood trial before Pietermaritzburg magistrate Dieter Schultz — who acquitted her on December 14, 2006 — on a string of charges, including drunk driving and culpable homicide.

Barron, who was principal of the Durban North campus of Varsity College, was returning from an end-of-year ball at the Royal Showgrounds in Pietermaritzburg when the accident happened.

She was previously the chief executive officer of the Comrades Marathon Association.

Even though Barron admitted at her trial that her blood alcohol concentration was 0,21g per 100 ml of blood — which is four times the legal limit — when it was taken just under two hours after the accident, she denied being drunk while driving.

She maintained the alcohol concentration in her blood could have risen due to drinks, possibly containing alcohol, that were handed to her at the scene by club patrons.

Schultz ruled he could not reject her version as false beyond reasonable doubt.

He also found Barron was not negligent for failing to “hoot, slow down or move over” after she noticed Smit “skipping and jumping” in the turning lane of the road.

Barron’s lawyer, advocate Shane Matthews, said the court’s clear factual finding was that Smit collided with (or walked into) Barron’s car after she had already passed him.

Matthews submitted that in these circumstances the high court does not have jurisdiction even to consider the state’s appeal because the law prevents the prosecution from appealing findings of fact reached by a magistrate. He submitted that this is what the state is trying to do in this case.

State advocate Dorian Paver argued that the state’s appeal is based on a question of law, which is whether or not the trial court should have concluded “in law” that Barron was guilty of culpable homicide.

He submitted in detailed written submissions that culpable homicide in relation to a fatal traffic accident is defined as the negligent killing of a human being.

“The answer to this legal question must inevitably involve a consideration of the law relating to negligence, which is an element of the crime of culpable homicide,”he said.

The state is appealing only Barron’s acquittal on the charge of culpable homicide.

Judge Achmat Jappie and Judge Fikile Mokgohloa have reserved judgment.

Smit’s mother, Caro, who has spearheaded a national anti-drinking and driving campaign since her son’s death, sat in the public gallery at the high court yesterday to listen to the legal arguments.

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